Airplane Air Can Cause Long-Term Illness, Study Reveals

December 11, 2017 at 5:56 pm

Researchers say airlines have known about the problem since the ’50s, but are ignoring it

While many of us are afraid to breathe airplane air because we don’t want to catch a cold or the flu, a study published by the World Health Organization just gave us an even bigger reason to wish we could hold our breath.

Toxic engine fumes.

Unfiltered breathing air is supplied to the cabin via the engine compressor, the study says. Half the air is recycled and half is coming in “fresh” from the engine.

Because low-level leakage of oil and other engine fluids is inevitable and continual, billions of us are breathing in highly toxic chemicals over and over again for the duration of our flights.

The more time we spend on planes, the higher our risk for long-term illness. Pilots and airline staff obviously have the most exposure.

Researchers from University of Stirling in Scotland and the University of Ulster in Ireland surveyed 274 pilots from the United Kingdom.

88 percent of the pilots said they were aware of air quality problems.

63 percent reported adverse health effects including diagnosed, long-term cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurological and respiratory illness, along with short-term fatigue, headache, dizziness, nausea and vision impairment.

Credit: The Independent

Dr. Susan Michaelis, an environmental health specialist from the University of Stirling and a consultant for Global Cabin Air Quality Executive, led the study.

Airlines have been aware of the problem for 60 years, she told The Independent, but refuse to acknowledge it.

“They won’t admit it because of money and liability,” she said. “They knew about this problem in the 1950s. It’s unconscionable that they haven’t dealt with it.”

“They have the technology to eliminate the problem – but manufacturers are refusing to use it.”

According to Michaelis, previous studies on this issue have all been funded by the airlines themselves.

“We need true independent studies. The studies from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and airlines themselves will say they’re independent. They’re not.”

If you must fly, the study says there is one type of plane that is safer than the others. The Boeing 787 is the only aircraft that does not use use the bleed air system to provide cabin ventilation.